Dozens of tornadoes and heavy thunderstorms swept across the Midwest on Sunday, bringing damaging winds to 12 states, from Missouri and Tennessee up through western New York. The band of storms flattened neighborhoods, flipped over cars, and uprooted trees.
Illinois was hit hardest. At least six people there were killed and dozens more were injured. Trees and debris from the storm brought down power lines and left roads impassible. Illinois Governor Pat Quinn declared seven counties disaster areas.
In the western Illinois town of Washington, a tornado with wind speeds of at least 170 miles per hour cut a path from one side of town to the other, destroying homes and businesses. “The whole neighborhood’s gone,” resident Michael Perdun told the Associated Press. “The wall of my fireplace is all that is left of my house.”
Washington Mayor Gary Manier estimated that 250 to 500 homes were damaged or destroyed in the storm. “Everybody’s without power, but some people are without everything,” Manier told reporters while standing in the parking lot of a destroyed auto parts store. The Illinois National Guard assisted emergency crews as cleanup efforts got underway in the town early Monday.
The Power of Nature
The storms, all belonging to the same system, were unusually powerful for this late in the year. They were caused by strong winds combined with temperatures in the 60s and 70s, says weather service meteorologist Matt Friedlein.
Twisters usually form during giant thunderstorms called supercells. Many tornadoes are black or brown from the dust and dirt they suck up as they move across the land. During a tornado, the National Weather Service advises people to take shelter in a storm cellar, a basement, or the innermost room on the lowest level of a building.
Damage from the storm was widespread. In Michigan, two people were killed and 500,000 homes and businesses lost power. In Indiana, 12 counties reported either tornadoes or storm damage and tens of thousands of homes went dark.
Governor Quinn promised help to storm victims in his state. “We’re all in this together,” Quinn said.